War of the Worlds – episode 1.15, “The Prodigal Son”

“Honey?! Darling?! Uh… what was your name again?”

So last time we left off on what may or may not have been a cliffhanger. You’ve been waiting with baited breath (or not) to find out whether Harrison Blackwood would go galloping off to rescue his beloved or just shrug and go on with his life. And now you’ll have the answer. As we sat down to start the next episode, my wife asked if I wanted to bet on whether it would be a continuation of the previous episode or not, but I didn’t like the odds, so I declined. And the answer is…

Nope. That last episode was a one-shot. The most poorly structured and sloppily wrapped-up episode so far. Holy fuck. Oh, well. I guess that’s not surprising given the show’s track record so far. This show has consistently proven to be the master of disappointment. But buckle up, kiddos, cause shit’s about to get real! Things take a surprising and delightful turn – as none other than John Colicos joins the cast!

John Colicos as the renegade alien Quinn.

For those of you reading this who were born within the past five minutes, that name might not mean anything. But for us old-timers, John Colicos was a big name in sci-fi back in the day. For one thing, he played the first Klingon ever to appear in Star Trek (not counting a brief shot of some background extras). He was also instrumental in determining the look of the Klingons. When he went to the make-up room, the Klingon design hadn’t been determined yet, so the make-up artist asked him what he wanted to look like. “Make me look like Ghengis Khan,” he said. “That’s what the Klingons make me think of.” And thus the most famous alien race in all of sci-fi was born. But that’s not his only claim to fame. Over a decade later, he would turn in a memorable performance as the traitorous Baltar on the original Battlestar Galactica. So the actor’s sci-fi pedigree was quite firmly established by the late 80s. But on to the episode…

“Tell ’em Baltar sent ya!”

We open with the mysterious Quinn (Colicos) being pursued by aliens disguised as cops. As they chase him down an alley, he outwits them by leaving his hat in plain sight with a bomb hidden under it. The sole survivor of the aliens chases him onto a rooftop. Quinn leaps from one building to the next, his black trenchcoat fluttering, and lands safely. His pursuer jumps also but doesn’t quite make it, grabbing hold of the edge of the building and reaching up, asking Quinn to help. Quinn just looks him in the eyes and coldly says, “To life immortal… sucker.” And the alien falls to his death while Quinn cracks that wonderfully wicked John Colicos grin.

Back at the ranch, Blackwood is not remotely upset by the recent loss of his One True Love and decides to go buy some art. Turns out Quinn is a world-renowned artist and Blackwood is a huge fan. Ironhorse is concerned that Blackwood will miss their presentation at the U.N., but Blackwood promises he’ll be back in time.

“By your command!”

Quinn’s limo collects Blackwood and spirits him away, blindfolded, to a warehouse where Quinn will unveil his latest work for Blackwood. This turns out to be a disappointment – it’s just some cornball lasers and Jared Martin has to act like he’s blown away by it. To be fair, he does as convincing a job as can be expected under the circumstances. Blackwood offers to buy the piece, but Quin says he’ll give it to him for free. Not only that, but he gives Blackwood a nifty little friendship bracelet to boot. Blackwood is bowled over by Quinn’s generosity, and Quinn launches into a speech about how he draws his inspiration from the wonders of the cosmos, where one can find life immortal. Blackwood recognizes the catch phrase and asks if Quinn has been in contact with aliens. Quinn reveals that he hasn’t just been in contact with aliens – he *is* an alien! Blackwood tries to escape, but the bracelet Quinn gave him is actually an alien device that Quinn can use like an invisible leash. Blackwood asks what he wants and he says he wants to broker peace between his people and humanity. But before he can elaborate, Aliens burst in and Quinn flees, dragging Blackwood with him.

They escape through a secret door, which also contains a booby trap. As the aliens pursue, a bomb goes off. Quinn leads Blackwood to his secret lair hidden away in the New York subway system. There Quinn tells his full story. He was the general who led the invasion of Earth in 1953. But when his comrades succumbed to Earth’s bacteria, he found that he was immune. Unable to continue the assault alone, and with the homeworld refusing to send reinforcements, he stole a human body to blend in with the populace and has been living among them ever since. Now the other aliens want him so they can harvest the organ that makes him immune to the bacteria, and they know what he looks like, so they’ve been constantly pursuing him. Blackwood asks why he doesn’t just change bodies, and he explains that the same genetic anomaly that makes him immune to the bacteria also traps him in this body.

“I’m John Colicos, bitch!”

Quinn thinks that he can get the aliens to stop chasing him if he can convince the humans to surrender. He thinks that he’ll be hailed a hero and crowned absolute ruler of his people, and in return for Blackwood’s help, Quinn will spare ten percent of the world’s population, to be kept on reservations far from his people. And Quinn will place Blackwood in charge of deciding who lives and who dies. Blackwood is horrified and says that’s not peace, it’s genocide, and asks why he would possibly go along with it. So Quinn tells him that if he doesn’t comply, it will mean extermination for humanity. Even now, a new full-scale invasion force is on its way and will arrive within five years. When they get here, they will wipe humanity from the face of the earth. Quinn’s plan is the only chance of survival for the human race.

Blackwood tries to reason with him, asks why they can’t find a way to co-exist, why the aliens think they have a right to the Earth. Quinn argues that his people can go where they please, that humanity doesn’t deserve Earth. Blackwood insists that humanity belongs here. “Belongs here?!” Quinn rages. “On this paradise that you treat like a toilet?!” He actually has a point. Reaching desperation, Blackwood argues that humanity’s saving grace is tolerance. Quinn scoffs, asking what good tolerance does. And Blackwood points out that humanity would accept Quinn, despite being alien, where Quinn’s people would not. Quinn is checkmated in the debate, but he rejects Blackwood’s reasoning anyway and drags him off to the U.N. to deliver his proposal.

“You have not heard the last of Baltar!”

When they arrive at the U.N., however, the aliens are there waiting for them. Quinn offers them Blackwood if they’ll let him go, but they refuse. Quinn tries to get away, but the aliens trap him and Blackwood in a closet. Realizing it’s over, Quinn is ready to give up, but Blackwood MacGyvers a blowtorch out of cleaning supplies and cooks the aliens as soon as they enter. More aliens show up and they flee back to Quinn’s secret lair only to find that a construction crew has blocked off the entrance. Quinn tells Blackwood to hide and plays possum. When the aliens get close, he uses a flash bulb to stun them, grabs one of their guns and shoots them. He tells Blackwood, “You gave me my life, now I give you yours.” He releases the bracelet and while Blackwood looks away, disappears. But his voice echoes through the tunnel, “Be seeing you, Harry…”

Normally, when my wife and I watch this show, we spend the entire time either laughing our asses off or staring slack-jawed at the ineptitude of the writing. Not this time. We sat quietly, in rapt attention, and when it was over, we looked at each other, stunned, and we both admitted that it was pretty darn good. There were a few wonky bits here and there, but on the whole, this was an hour of quality television. It was well-written, tightly paced, suspenseful, and even thought-provoking. It still might not have been my idea of what a War of the Worlds TV show is supposed to be, but judging it on its own merits, it was genuinely, really good.

Is this what the rest of the series is going to be like? Well, I’m not getting my hopes up. But if John Colicos gets as much screen time as he deserves – and this show desperately needs – then at the very least it might actually hold my attention. We’ll see…

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