Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Outer Limits (1963): The Architects of Fear

"The Architects of Fear." (S1E3) First aired 30 September 1963. Directed by Byron Haskin. Written by Meyer Dolinsky. Starring Robert Culp, Geraldine Brooks, Leonard Stone and Martin Wolfson. 8/10

In the hopes of preventing an eventual nuclear attack, a group of American scientists develops a plan to unite all nations by creating a common, external threat. They set out to biologically transform one of the men into an alien creature, modelling it after a creature captured from Theta. A mock saucer landing is to be staged, with the creature attacking a United Nations gathering, to be taken down by the defending humans. For the plan to be carried out successfully, the person selected for transformation must ultimately die.

The chosen candidate, selected by lot, is physicist Dr. Alan Leighton. The main complication, aside from the biological difficulties in carrying out the mutation, is that Leighton is happily married. Moreover, soon after being selected, he learns that his wife, believed to have been barren due to a murmuring heart, is pregnant.

The (mad) scientific plot to save the world is a great concept. For one thing, the "mad scientists" are, unlike standard mad scientists, trying to unselfishly save Earth rather than destroy it. The idea of transforming a man into an altogether different, alien being is fascinating, and the progression by which this is achieved in the episode is great to watch. Aside from cold, rational science, there is also the inherent moral considerations, mainly, how can a small group of men toy around with the people of the world and place them at risk? The moral consideration that the episode elects to focus on is quite simple: these men have decided to end the life of a fellow human being, and seem unaware of consequences to those he loves.

This last point is where the episode proves most effective. Leighton's loving wife Yvette is, as expected, devastated by her husband's death. Her grieving is solitary, and she is even dismissed by her husband's colleagues who push her away, and would rather focus on the delicate series of operations they must perform. The most powerful scene is not the moment of alien attack, or even the final instant when [spoiler] Yvette learns that the creature is her husband, but the scene when she appears at the lab to gather her husband's belongings. The sequence cuts from the final stages of the complex operation to Yvette. While she is grieving her husband's death, he is in the next room being made un-human, essentially being killed by his colleagues. When she is done crying in Leighton's office and steps out into the hall, the scientists have just completed the transformation and have also stepped out, pushing the stretcher carrying Leighton's body. Yvette and the men look at one another, and it is implied that she suspects what lies beneath the sheet of the stretcher. The personal crisis is proven to be sometimes greater than the international.

Again some solid performances, with Robert Culp in his first of three lead Outer Limits appearances, Geraldine Brooks is superb as Yvette and essentially steals the show, and Leonard Stone is great as scientist and friend Dr. Phillip Gainer. Directed by Byron Haskin, his second Outer Limits effort immediately after "The Hundred Days of the Dragon," who once again helps produce a patient story focusing on human elements brought together by a brief climax. The climax in this story is fully integrated with the thematic considerations, more so than with "Dragon," since the death of Leighton is what ultimately provides the plot with pure tragedy. As sentimental as the death scene might appear, it is more the powerful it, rather than weakened by it. This was the first of three Outer Limits episodes written by Meyer Dolinsky, who wrote for a variety of shows over twenty-five years, including two for Science Fiction Theatre (1956), four for Lock-Up (1960), two for The Invaders (1967) and one for Star Trek ("Plato's Stepchildren," that controversial episode that featured the first interracial kiss on western television).

And of course there's the alien. Very well conceived, the creature was evidently considered too frightening for prime time (read a summary on censorship on wikipedia). The creature holds up to today's viewer, not because of its realism, but because of the episode's involving morality, as well as the slow progression of creation, allowing the viewer glimpses of what to expect. It is early 60s make-up and costume, and the eyes look artificial to our eyes, and proves that good dramatic television transcends our need for eye candy and unnecessary violence.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Outer Limits (1963): The Hundred Days of the Dragon


"The Hundred Days of the Dragon." (S1E2) First aired 23 September 1963. Directed by Byron Haskin. Written by Allan Balter and Robert Mintz. Starring Sidney Blackmer, Phillip Pine, Joan Camden, Nancy Rennick, Mark Roberts, Aki Aleong, Richard Loo, Bert Remsen and James Hong. 9/10

The government of an unnamed Asian country south of Mongolia (in other words, China) has developed a remarkable spying technique: the ability to impersonate any man through physical alteration. This alteration has little to do with surgery, and instead relies on the injection of a drug that makes a person's skin malleable, and like clay can then be sculpted. Add voice training, character impersonation, and the best possible infiltration through body snatching can be achieved.

The shady government's intended target for replacement is William Lyons Selby, the leading candidate for President of the United States. Successfully infiltrating the White House in the guise of President Selby, the shady government can soon put into play its plan for world domination. First by withdrawing American fleets from eastern waters, and then by imitating other members of office, primarily the principled and suspicious Vice President and dear friend of Selby's, Ted Pearson.

"The Hundred Days of the Dragon" is an exceptional piece of Cold War paranoia, reminiscent of the body snatching in Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Aside from Cold War fears, and even threats of all-out war, the episode is a truly chilling piece of dramatic suspense. Incredibly well filmed, with a great script and patient sequencing, this could have been worked into a good film, with an additional half-hour to play out an extended finish.

[Spoiler.] The sudden and somewhat flat ending is the only weak point, yet with such a strong overall production the ending is only part of the whole, rather than what it culminates into. I would not ask for a massive climactic chase scene, but a more involved way of outing the criminals. Yes, the public face peeling moment is fantastic, but the lead-up is just too convenient. At the same time, had the script covered a broader and longer ending sequence, we would have lost the great pacing of the rest of the episode.

The episode was directed by Berkley graduate and former cartoonist Byron Haskin, the man behind the camera for the 1953 H. G. Wells adaptation of War of the Worlds, 1954's The Naked Jungle (adaptation of the Carl Stephenson story "Leiningen versus the Ants"), and a total of six Outer Limits episodes. Haskin combines talents with cinematographer Conrad L. Hall (who will go on to work on some great films) to deliver a truly taught, visually compelling, atmospheric piece of TV cinema. There are shadows and blinking lights everywhere, dark plant shadows reflected against white walls, and elegantly decorated rooms thrown into darkness. Low camera angles and shots peering in from behind objects, like desk lamps and plants, even peeping through doors, enhance the feeling of spying and being spied upon. Claustrophobia and paranoia are evident in nearly every frame. The visuals are necessary, especially for a script with important sequences wholly absent of dialogue.

The plot progression is played out patiently. The opening which explains the fantastic premise is given time to develop, and because of the unique and far-fetched idea, it is always compelling. The scene in which our imposter takes over the President's form is slow, patient and methodical, a lengthy scene made tenser with the lack of dialogue and the good, subdued TV music with the hint of oriental sound. There are many low shots here as we watch our communist tread across the carpeted hotel floor. The shooting of the president is cold and sudden, part of the plan, and effective still in this decade.

Special effects of 1963 prove yet again to be innovative and to hold up to the test of time. It is obvious that the faces being molded are made of clay, yet the effect of watching fingers dragging forcefully across a man's face is still quite powerful, especially when the eyebrows get pulled and the nose gets mashed. There is no silly alien in this episode, yet the alien unknown is still prevalent, and when that alien is human, the stakes are somehow higher. There is a small goof in the opening sequence, however. We learn that both Selby and the imposter have the third finger of their left hand missing, and yet when the imposter is placing the face mold over his face, the camera acting as the imposter's eyes, that third finger is clearly intact. Likely the hand doesn't even belong to the actor, and might even be Haskin's own. Throughout the episode it is clear that Blackmer himself has all his fingers intact, and that when the missing finger is prominent, it is obvious that the finger is simply taped down to look like a stub. A fat stub.

Sixty days after the episode featuring the murder of a US president is aired, on November 22nd, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated. Technically, though, Selby is not yet president when he is shot.

Longtime character actor Sidney Blackmer is excellent as the charming President Selby, and as the imposter pretending to be the charming President Selby. His use of eye and mouth motions to both intensify the charade and illuminate the characters' (particularly the imposter's) inner thoughts and feelings is fantastic. I remember Blackmer best in the excellent AHP episode "Don't Come Back Alive" (S1E4). Phillip Pine is just as good as the conscience-prone and suspicious friend and VP Pearson, with strong support from the rest of the cast.


Anthology Cast Notes (other TV anthology appearances):

Sidney Blackmer. Suspense: "Post Mortem" (S1E9) & "This Is Your Confession" parts 1 and 2 (S3E52); Tales of Tomorrow: "The Dark Angel" (S1E8); Climax!: "Flame-Out in T-6" (S2E30) & "Scream in Silence" (S4E13); Thriller: "The Premature burial" (S2E3); Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "Don't Come Back Alive" (S1E4) & "The Faith of Aaron Menefee" (S7E17).

Phillip Pine. Tales of Tomorrow: "Plague from Space" (S1E30) & "The Bitter Storm" (S2E17); Science Fiction Theatre: "Before the Beginning" (S1E34); Twilight Zone, "The Four of Us Are Dying" (S1E13) & "The Incredible World of Horace Ford" (S4E14); Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "The Safe Place" (S3E36); One Step Beyond: "Where Are They?" (S1E12); Kraft Mystery Theatre: "The Problem in Cell Block 13" (S2E8); Ghost Story: "The Ghost of Potter's Field (S1E21). Also The Invaders, Star Trek and over a hundred different shows.

Nancy Rennick. Twilight Zone: "The After Hours" (S1E34) & "The Odyssey of Flight 33" (S2E18).

Mark Roberts. Suspense: "I'm No Hero" (S2E41) & "Wisteria Cottage" (S2E42).

Bert Remsen. Suspense: "The Moving Target" (S5E4), Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "The Throwback" (S6E20), "Gratitude" (S6E28), "Services Rendered" (S7E10), "The Right Kind of Medicine" (S7E11); Alfred Hitchcock Hour: "Annabel" (S1E7)

Aki Aleong. Outer Limits: "Expanding Human" (S2E4).

James Hong. One Step Beyond: "House of the Dead" (S2E37); Tales from the Darkside: "It All Comes Out in the Wash" (S1E10). Also Wonder Woman, War of the Worlds, The X-Files & countless others.


Friday, July 15, 2011

The Outer Limits (1963): The Galaxy Being

[Edit: Mr. Cliff Robertson (1923-2011), thank you for all the great work.]


I will not be providing an overview since this is one series that was well documented and researched. Wikipedia has summaries, cast notes and interesting production information. The David J. Schow and Jeffrey Franzen companion is exhaustive, so I'm given to understand. (I have not read it and do not have a copy, though will try to nab one.)


"The Galaxy Being." (S1E1) First aired 16 September 1963. Directed and written by Leslie Stevens. Starring Cliff Robertson, Lee Philips, Jacqueline Scott, and Burt Metcalfe. 7/10

Owner of a small, local mainstream radio station, Alan Maxwell has been usurping the station's power after picking up an odd signal. By creating a series of radio waves that can emit three-dimensional images, he is able to give form to the originator of the broadcasts: an exploratory alien from another world. Like Maxwell, this being is taking part in the communication illegally, for while Max is acting against contracts with his sponsors by diminishing the station's broadcast range, the alien is communicating with Earth, an act forbidden to his people. These wise aliens are aware of Earth's destructive potential, yet this particular one believes in the benefits of sharing and exploration.

[Minor spoiler] Maxwell leaves the station to attend a social event in his honour, as does his brother, DJ Gene "Buddy" Maxwell. Replacing Gene for the evening is young and ambitious Eddie Phillips, who raises the power levels to the transmitter so he can be heard in the distant, foreign land of Canada (also inhabited by wise, exploratory aliens). Through his benevolent wish of sharing some good American music with Canadians, Phillips essentially overloads the electromagnetic field that is generating the alien's form and keeping it safely locked away, and the poor exploratory galaxy being is magica--I mean, scientifically transported Earth. It leaves the station and begins to wreak havoc on the small, unsuspecting town, but not through any form of maliciousness, rather because of his natural radiation. What will the poor, destructive humans do? (He should have materialized in Canada; the army is not as massive.)

[Major spoiler] After wreaking some havoc, the police appear, and are soon followed by the military, who show up with their arsenal and start shooting, nearly Killing Maxwell's wife, Carol. The alien tells them to go home and "give thought to the mysteries of the universe," after which he de-materializes, but since the aliens do not experience death, his fate is unknown.

Written and directed by series creator Leslie Stevens, "The Galaxy Being" is a strong entry into the series. Stevens's background included stage and Broadway work, as well as scripting many teleplays for the popular Playhouse 90. It is superbly scripted, patiently detailing the relationship troubles between Maxwell and Carol, and appropriately sympathetic with Carol rather than the neglectful hero amateur scientist. Even minor characters are well developed, from Maxwell's brother to the young DJ, as is the alien creature.

This episode is a great example of a successful hour-long anthology teleplay, showing patience, care in development and combining elements of family drama, competent 1963 science, and even some horror (the standoff a little reminiscent of many early sci-fi films, such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, but of course on a smaller scale). The episode's production budget of $213,000 (David J. Schow & Jeffrey Franzen, The Outer Limits: The Official Companion, as quoted on Wikipedia) was probably generous for a TV episode, and well spent, with varied sets, a strong cast and nice camera work. Except maybe for that scene when our wise alien is walking the streets and the camera acts as his eyes; the lights behind the camera cast some unfortunate shadows on the ground). My favourite scene is when the alien enters a pawn shop, perhaps looking for a souvenir, and curiously handling some objects, at one point peers through a pair of binoculars that magnify his radiation glow. Clever and humourous stuff.

The special effects are 1963, and yet in this case still effective, aided by the black and white and overall slick look of the episode. Cliff Robertson is great as Maxwell, and the always reliable Jacqueline Scott is superb as Carol (she did great work on two episodes of Planet of the Apes). Leslie Stevens provided the voice of the alien, and proves to be not only a fine writer and director, but a good voice performer.
Link


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Twilight Zone (2002): Overview and episodes 1 through 6

This is the second attempt at reviving Rod Serling's groundbreaking The Twilight Zone (1959-1964). While some episodes do maintain the spirit of the original, by focusing primarily on character, character development, and/or on some element of human nature, a number of episodes focus on their science fiction, fantasy or horror elements rather than on character or theme/morals. While these episodes might not necessarily be bad, some are even quite good, they are not necessarily TZ material. Examples of this are the good episode "The Pool Guy" (S1E9) which is more in line with The Outer Limits, or the terrible "The Harsh Mistress" (S1E9) which is more suited to Friday the 13th.

A number of experienced TV directors were involved in many of the episodes. This includes veteran Allan Kroeker (3 episodes), who had directed an episode of the 1980s TZ as well the season finales of three different Star Trek series (DS9, Voyageur, Enterprise), and the always pleasant actor, writer and director Bob Balaban (2 episodes), who directed the series pilot for Tales from the Darkside. Other long-time TV directors include John T. Kretchmer (5 episodes), Suicide Kings director Peter O'Fallon (2 episodes), and Brad Turner (4 episodes), who helmed a 1980 TZ episode while a directing rookie, and who has filmed a large portion of 24, along with ST:DS9, Stargate and its spin-offs, and an impressive seventeen episodes of The Outer Limits (1995).

The second season of the original TZ began a trend of presenting Rod Serling on-screen for the episode introductions. That same concept was borrowed here, hiring the talented Forest Whitaker as host. Whitaker was unfortunately not a great host, yet I would blame this not on the actor, but on production. While Serling was often filmed on set, sometimes filmed post production with a blurry camera pan making it appear he was amid the action, Whitaker was pasted onto the screen, photoshopped if you will, sometimes a little too obviously. Particularly during rain, grasping a useless umbrella. Likely his ultra brief intros were filmed in a studio over the course of a day or two, and the effect comes across as cheap. Of course times are different, and while Serling was fully invested in TZ, Whitaker was an employee and obviously wasn't expected to be on set. Moreover, writing for the host post was not done with Whitaker in mind, but rather the gruff, oddly eloquent and aggressively charismatic chimney that was Serling. Whitaker sounds too gentle quoting lines like "Chalk one up for the good guy," (S1E10) whereas phrases like these came off of Serling's tongue so naturally that they never felt written. Whitaker should have been considered more, and the intros and episodes would have been more effective as a result. I am glad that a talented black actor was hired to fill Serling's shoes, since the racial aspect is appropriate, in line with TZ philosophy, and would have greatly pleased TZ's creator.

In short, the 2002 Twilight Zone need not have been The Twilight Zone, but another anthology series of the fantastic. Mixed like most such series, it did not have its own consistent and unique feel that the original TZ, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Tales from the Darkside or Friday the 13th had, likely because too many industry hands were involved so it was no particular group's personal investment. There there were nonetheless a number of truly great episodes that are worth a watch, and the show should have been given a second season.


"Evergreen." (S1E1) First aired 18 September 2002. Directed by Allan Kroeker. Written by Jill E. Blotevogel. Starring Amber Tamblyn, Jesse Moss and Chantal Conlin. 4/10

"Meet the Winslows. A family searching for a way to control their troubled teen. How far they're willing to go will take them to a gated community who's address can only be found [dramatic pause] in the Twilight Zone."

There is a problem with the revival opener: it's not the family that wishes to control the troubled teen, but the parents. It would have been accurate to say that "a couple," since the troubled teen herself, as well as her clean-cut little sister, are just fine with the way she is.

The Winslow family moves into the gated community of Evergreen in the hopes of transforming their rebellious daughter Jenna into a respectful community kid. Yet Evergreen is creepy, a conformist society where nearly everyone dresses alike. And the sign on the gate reads:
"EVERGREEN ESTATES
Our children are our greatest resource"
which of course made me wonder if Jenna would become part of the weekend community barbecue, or perhaps used to fire up the gas stove or the car's engine. Resource is such an inclusive word. This immediate speculation is telling of how generic the concept has become, the utopian community that reveals itself to be willing to sacrifice its most deviant members for the good of the whole. Recently an episode of the Mick Garris creation Fear Itself, titled "Community," featured the same basic idea. The most recognizable dark community is probably from Ira Levin's The Stepford Wives, which, though dated, is nonetheless a good read.

The first episode of the new Twilight Zone is a "safe" one, an attempt to find fresh viewers while bringing in those adamantly faithful to the original by maintaining elements of the original show, such as the twist ending and, well, maybe only the twist ending. Everything about the episode is generic, from the basic premise to the story-line, the dialogue and stock characters, some of whom are completely non-descript, and you wonder why they are even there. They are there simply for plot progression purposes, of course, so that we can be guided to that final twist. Sadly, everything is molded toward that ending, conscious of the final great reveal, which is, truth be told, not at all spectacular. Whether or not we figure out exactly what makes children such great community resources really doesn't matter, because you have an idea of the gist of it all, and that inkling alone removes any shock or sense of satisfaction.

This is the first of three TZ episodes directed by longtime television director Allan Kroeker, who also directed one of the 1980s TZ episodes and might have been hired due to that link. Kroeker certainly cannot be blamed for the weak episode. Amber Tamblyn is fine as the rebel Jenna, but the role is so thinly written that a doorknob would have performed just as well. The gated community is pretty, very green, so at least we're offered something worth looking at.


"One Night at the Mercy." (S1E2) First aired 18 September 2002. Directed by Peter O'Fallon. Written by Christopher Mack. Starring Jason Alexander, Tyler Christopher Lynda Boyd and a pretty red rose. 7/10

His second day on the job, ER Doctor Jay Ferguson first barely saves a life, then encounters Death. An average looking man is brought to the hospital as a suicide attempt, having hung for twenty-two hours, and introduces himself as Death. Well, it turns out that Death is depressed due to the fact that he is responsible for killing everyone. Yes, every single person since persons existed. Talk about work-related stress. Unbelieving, Dr. Jay is confounded when the morning paper lists no obituaries because nobody has died that dead. Death has given up, quit his position and refuses to kill anyone else.

"One Night at the Mercy" is a surprisingly good episode. It combines ghost-like chills with a touch of humour, and its plot is driven by its theme. Unlike its predecessor "Evergreen," this episode is true to the original TZ concept, of dealing with issues affecting humanity and of individual sacrifice. It is also well written and directed, with some nice dim cinematography that adds the element of classic ghost story. The late night, power-disrupted hospital atmosphere is a nice touch. Performances are strong, with Tyler Christopher as Jay and Seinfeld's George Costanza Jason Alexander is excellent as Death, not simply adding a touch of humour to the role, but maintaining the depth of its crisis. Ironically, Christopher is best known for his lengthy stint on the daytime soap General Hospital, a fact most likely in favour of his getting the part. Moreover, before Seinfeld fame, Alexander also appeared in a hospital series, where the lead, played by Elliott Gould, was a Dr. Sheinfeld. This show lasted a single season in 1984-85, was titled E/R, and also featured in its cast George Clooney.

It's also aptly titled: what is the consequence of one night of mercy on humanity? Can death itself be a kind of mercy?


"Shades of Guilt." (S1E3) First aired 18 September 2002. Directed by Perry Lang. Written by Ira Steven Behr. Starring Hill Harper, Vincent Ventresca, Mari Morrow and Barbara Tyson. 5/10

On a rainy night, successful white dude Matt McGreevy is sitting in his car at the light, when a black guys appears, slapping his window and begging to be let inside. Matt freaks, drives off, and looks through his mirror to see the guy getting attacked by three men. It turns out that Matt is an upper-class husband and dog-owner living in a lovely white suburban and corporate world. Wife and friends do little to ease his feelings of guilt, which are enhanced when he learns that the black man was college professor John Woodrell who has published three books. Because this is The Twilight Zone, Matt begins to change, first showing scars such as Woodrell would have received from his beating, and then turning black.

Taken from the annals of the original series, which was a forerunner in anti-racism on TV, "Shades of Guilt" does not have the impact it would have back in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The idea is, of course, still relevant, because racism is, sadly, very much alive sixty years later, only mutated and modernised and, in the case of the suburban corporate landscape, often repressed. The episode means well, but suffers from being too obvious and predictable. The story is reminiscent of the disastrous John Landis production that killed actor Vic Morrow and two children during filming for the Twilight Zone: The Movie. Rather than being a vocal man of many prejudices, however, our protagonist here is an average white guy (as though all "average" white people owned such beautiful homes) whose latent racism comes to the fore. Unfortunately, there are a number of problems with the episode.

For one thing, the episode was made for white people. Matt is a sympathetic character who feels truly guilt for having driven off in a fright, so is not an obvious "bad guy." A risky but likely more convincing show of sympathy would be a true portrayal of the blatant and subtle forms of racism extant in modern society, but instead we have a wrist slapping episode for white people, one that shows Nazi skinheads beating on a suburbanised black man while a bystander white guy is punished. Why were the gang members not shown what it is like to be a visible minority? It would be better to remove one violent aggressor from the streets than to reform an average guy who just happens to be driving by during a racial beating. (Really, driving late at night and some guy starts banging on my car, black or white or orange, I can't imagine how I'd react, and do get that right: it's not an action but a reaction.) Note also that the black man, the good guy here, is a lighter shade of black, psychologically easier for the average white person to sympathise with since he is not as removed racially as a very dark man would appear to be.

TZ magic works in mysterious ways, I suppose, but despite being killed college professor of three books lives to write a fourth, and one upper-middle-class man can live long and prosperous lives while the rest of the world kills each other.

There is another point to ponder. When Matt shows up at the Woodrell's place begging for forgiveness so his life, ultimately, can be saved, Mrs. Woodrell is satisfied to let him get killed when he can't deny that he would have, on that fateful night, saved a white man. Essentially, the message here is that murderous vengeance (albeit in grief) is acceptable. Which brings me away from notions of race to notions of gender. The two lead men in this piece are presented quite sympathetically, and drive away like modern cowboys on horseback off into the horizon. The two lead women, though, are irrationally ruled by emotion. Matt's wife Hilary frustrates him when he tries to show himself up as a bad guy, and nearly kills him when he shows up as black dude John (who doesn't look in the least threatening), while John's wife Clare appears to us in a form of primal, bloodthirsty vengeance; I can almost see the blood dripping from between her teeth.

Of course I'm exaggerating a little, but the seeds are all there, and it's certainly food for thought.


"Dream Lover." (S1E4) First aired 18 September 2002. Directed by Peter O'Fallon. Written by Frederick Rappaport. Starring Shannon Elizabeth, Adrian Pasdar and John Reardon. 5/10

Working on the sequel to his successful graphic novel Sleepless City, Andrew Lomax is struggling, until he receives help from his dream girl, Sondra: a sketch of a beautiful woman he has drawn who has suddenly come to life. Everything is working well, until Sondra begins to flirt with the cable guy, drive into town, and essentially gain some independence.

If you stop to think about this episode, putting the pieces together, there are far too many holes. Andrew Lomax is unsympathetic, and his ridiculous bouts of jealousy quite silly. It also becomes predictable near the end (though certainly not at the beginning) because it becomes evident that is only one way for it to end. The episode is not terrible, as there are some nice camera angles, a nice location, some good initial suspense, and the beautiful Shannon Elizabeth is more than watchable.

The second of two 2002 TZ directed by Peter O'Fallon after the much better "One Night at the Mercy," it's the first of five scripted by Frederick Rappaport.


"Cradle of Darkness." (S1E5) First aired 2 October 2002. Directed by Jean de Segonzac. Written by Kamran Pasha. Starring Katherine Heigl, James Remar, Nancy Sivak and Jillian Fargey. 7/10

Andrea Collins is sent back in time to kill the child who will grow up to be Adolph Hitler. A simple premise, which of course challenges notions of time travel and the consequences of altering past events: should baby Hitler be killed, how can we be certain that an even more horrific crime would not transpire as a result, that an even more horrible person won't then rise to destroy the world? Of course this is all speculation, and time travel stories such as these require a good deal of suspension of logic. Toss the speculation aside, especially considering this is a terrific episode.

What impresses me most here is the quality of production, the gorgeous sets and great cinematography. A larger cast than we normally see in a half-hour episode, everyone does a great job alongside the beautiful Katherine Heigl (Grey's Anatomy) as Collins and the handsome James Remar (Dexter) as the madman's father, Alois Hitler. Supporting cast members do well, including the baby, who performs babyness with natural ease. The accents are inaccurate, inconsistent and even needless, especially since we already accept that they are really speaking German, and that the English is an illusion. Making them have accents is just ridiculous.

I found most interesting the characterization of the Hitler household, and especially of Alois Hitler. A hard, very particular customs official who takes liberties with his female servants. While much of what we know regarding the real Alois is speculation, there are no blatant inaccuracies, and with Remar's solid performance, the character is more dimensional than one would expect in a half-hour slice of historical science-fiction.Link
The first of two TZ screenplays by Kamran Pasha, who also wrote "To Protect and Serve" (S1E15). Directed by experienced television director Jean de Segonzac, who also directs the next episode, "Night Route," and the straight-to-video Mimic 2, along with many episodes of the various Law & Order series. Writing and direction are both strong.


"Night Route." (S1E6) First aired 2 October 2002. Directed by Jean de Segonzac. Written by Jill E. Blotevogel and Pen Densham. Starring Ione Skye, Dylan Walsh, Nicky Klyne and Emily Perkins. 7/10

Melina Kroner is nearly hit by a car, and soon begins to experience odd episodes, from a city bus seemingly following her to strangers recognising her. She refuses to believe that she has died, unfair since she is happy and soon to be married, and tries to escape that fate. Director Jean de Segonzac's strong follow-up to the (slightly) stronger "Cradle of Darkness" took me by surprise. not only did the end surprise me, but thematically the episode's simple message of live life to the fullest is nicely achieved. The episode plays out like a classic TZ, yet it manages to defy expectation.

A strong performance by Ione Skye is a plus, with good back up from Dylan Walsh (Nip/Tuck) as husband-to-be Adam. It's also nice to see some talented Canadians even though in bit parts, such as Emily Perkins, the lead in the great Ginger Snaps, and Nicky Klyne from Battlestar Galactica.


Testing a new map (as of 24 December 2015)